Monday, January 31, 2011

On Submission

On Saturday, Justin and I were watching a movie called "No Greater Love". It was a movie that I grabbed out of the bargain bin, but as it turns out, it was produced by a church. Essentially, the story goes like this--during a time of great turmoil in their marriage, the wife walked out leaving the husband with their 10 month old son, and wasn't heard from again. Several years and several cities later, the husband and wife accidentally bumped into each other. The wife had found God and stopped drinking, but hadn't been able to find her ex-husband and son. Eventually, she finds out that her "ex" husband is technically still her husband--he never officially divorced her after she left. Anyway, they decide that maybe they'd like to reconcile, but she is nervous because she is now a Christian and he isnt.

During one scene, she tearfully turns to a friend and says something to the effect of, "I'm supposed to submit to my husband, but what if he tells me to stop reading the Bible or stop going to church?!" Justin and I both groaned.

In the past couple of years, Justin and I have observed this line of thinking quite often--sometimes at Bible study (as a point of clarification,we attend a Bible Study at a church that identifies itself as a "Fellowship" church, while Justin and I both identify ourselves as being Lutheran. Occasionally, some differences in application arise, as would be expected), sometimes just in casual conversation with friends--this idea that wives are called to submit to whatever their husbands say, even if they disagree. Justin and I have talked about this at length, both amongst ourselves and with our pastor(s), and I'd like to share a bit about our beliefs regarding submission in marriage. As always, I understand that not everyone may share our beliefs, and that's okay.

The idea that wives should submit to their husbands comes from Ephesians 5:22, which is a verse that was prominently featured in the book Love & Respect (and the corresponding Bible Study) by Emerson Eggrichs. However, it seems to both Justin and I that that particular verse often seems to be taken out of context. Ephesians 5:22 itself reads, "Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord." However, Ephesians 5:21 is often excluded, and gives us the context for the statement that comes after it. Let's look at them together:

(21)Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (22)Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord.

In actuality, both husbands and wives are called to submit to one another. But interestingly enough, during the time that we participated in the Love & Respect study, verse 21 was never mentioned--this may have been specific to our particular leaders, so if anyone else has had a different experience, please chime in!

Taking a look at the Greek words used gives us an even deeper understanding of these two verses. See, the Greek word for submit, hupotasso,  is NOT the same as the Greek word for obey, hupakouo,  Paul does use hupakouo in reference to children obeying their parents, but does NOT use it in terms of wives obeying their husbands. Rather, the word hupotasso as used in both verse 21 and 22 roughly translates to mean "to line up under".

Essentially, the passage is framed like this:

Verse 21: Hey both of you--if you're going to do this marriage thing, you need to put each other first.
Verses 22-24: Wives, here's a couple of ways that you can demonstrate this idea to your husbands.
Verses 25-33- Husbands, here's a couple of ways that you can demonstrate this idea to your wives.

In other words, husbands and wives are both called to line up under the other--putting the other's needs above their own. It is not blind obedience, but an intentional desire to put someone else first based on a relationship that is hopefully rooted in love, respect, and trust.

How do you guys approach this pretty controversial passage?


  1. Like you've highlighted in this post, I think that the true meaning of this passage is often lost in translation. In English, there is a lot of subtext regarding the word submission, but by looking that the language that the passage was actually written in, we get a more clear picture. We had a pastor a few years ago who had studied Greek and Hebrew during his Doctorate in Divinity and her really made it clear in each sermon how the language of the Bible can often get misinterpreted. Thanks for highlighting this for me. I'll definitely save this link and pass it on :)

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. The whole "submission" debate drives me bonkers but you hit it on the head. We recently joined a church who did an AMAZING series on marriage and submission. I wish everyone who has a misunderstanding of the biblicial concept of submission could have been there. It's not about being a doormat, it's not saying the wife is less important than the husband. It's about sucking up your pride and putting others before yourself. period.

  3. We veiw the verse the same way you do. What did you think of the Love and Respect study? We were given a copy of the book for a wedding gift, and to be honest I was very very frustrated with many parts of the book.

  4. Great post, thanks for including the extra verse. We were at a wedding this summer that read only the "wives submit to your husbands" part and I cringed.

  5. Awesome post!! I have a concordance and I always look up key Greek/Hebrew words so I can better understand the verse. This is a great example of that. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I only read the last half of your post because...

    I just bought the No Greater Love devotional, at random, from as part of Jarrod's Valentine's Day gift (and essentially for us, of course)...and I've been thinking about going back and buying the movie. I didn't know it was a movie (which inspired the devotional) until the devotional arrived. So, I didn't want to be spoiled...but I'm glad you liked it and posted about this - now I can check it out! :)

    Maybe check out the devo?

  7. Great post. I grew up Lutheran and consider myself a Lutheran but my husband grew up Southern Baptist so we go to a "Community" church. I am really happy that you outlined this topic. It makes me cringe when it comes up. We have a lot of extreme public views in our area so it is nice to hear that balanced view. This explanation is more in line with my beliefs.

  8. This whole debate drives me crazy! It is not about doing whatever your husband says, end of story. Brandon and I tend to view this more like you do- we are in this together, so this is how the Bible lays out how we can make this work. I love that you have highlighted this, as I feel it is a very important and crucial subject that all spouses should be clear on.

  9. We totally agree with you, because we've had the same discussion with a group of our friends from church, about the meaning of Greek terms, etc.

    Still, I find it hard to explain to non-believers. They get all strung up on the word "submit" and refuse to see the beauty and equality in the practice of it. They don't get that's not a feminist/secular issue.

  10. Didn't we have this conversation last time I was home? ;)

  11. Obviously, your final question doesn't really apply to me, so i'm just gonna go off on some random thoughts.

    Way to pwn misogyny with context. Although it does seem worth noting that the Bible was written in the context of unabashedly patriarchal societies, with strict gender roles. Inventions of humanity, not god, if you will, but that reality carrying over into modern society seems an unfortunate effect of basing one's morality on a literalist interpretation of a two thousand-year-old moral code.

    This also makes me think of Islam, which is frequently translated as "submission (to god)," which causes no end of consternation in rightist and xenophobic circles. Again, context is key. I wonder how much Americans' chronic monoligualism prevents them from more readily understanding that translation can cause goofy things? Even languages as closely connected as English and German have some pretty wide translation gaps at times.

    Ah... so much to unpack from this one post...

  12. thank you, mere, for writing about this difficult issue!!!

    the reality of how this plays out in our marriage is we strive to love and serve and sacrifice for each other. i feel deeply adored, valued, and esteemed by my man. =)

    AND ... i see him as the leader in our home, which truthfully places more responsibility on him. if that makes sense? it is not leadership as in, i am so weak, guide my steps. but rather, i look to him as the spiritual leader in our home, and as my amazing man who has such a gift of insight and wisdom. how that plays out? when we have dilemmas and a divergence in approach on something (usually a parenting thing), my goal is to trust his leadership. it's not always easy. =) and he never insists. but i have seen blessing come when i trust his leading on something and implement it ...

  13. This is the best blog post I have read in a while. Two thumbs and two big toes up.


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